Last night I was chatting to a friend about depression. As someone who is still recovering from depression she kept referring to it as “her weakness” which bothered me a little. This lead to her sharing with me a perspective on depression she had encountered recently: that depression was a method by which nature would rid a tribe of weaker members. Presumably it worked something like this: a person who couldn’t meet the expectations placed on them by their tribe would develop depression and end their own life so that only the strong members would survive. Thus it is a form of eugenics programmed into our psyche to effectively off ourselves for the benefit of the rest of the tribe. Now, I am trained as a biologist and such a genetic trait is unlikely to be passed on via natural selection because it actually lowers the probability of an individual passing on their genetics. Such genes usually die out quickly. However, this got me thinking about something: if so many people have the potential to get depression – why would such a trait be preserved by natural selection? What survival advantage does a propensity for depression actually have? Here is my case on why depression is helpful rather than harmful.
While one often comes across articulate and well-argued articles criticising anti-depressants from a medical or efficacy point of view, one seldom comes across the philosophical argument against anti-depressants. It was, in fact, the philosophical case against anti-depressants that convinced me as a teenager that I would never, ever take them for myself, a decision that has been beneficial to me ever since.
I am against their usage both on medical grounds and on philosophical grounds, but I accept that anti-depressants are likely here to stay. Indeed, I would argue we have always had anti-depressants, for what else should we call caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and opium but traditional remedies for our emotional ailments? People who are feeling low in motivation often indulge in coffee for the caffeine hit. People who lack courage often indulge in alcohol to shore up their nerves. People who are miserable will often indulge in excessive amounts of sugar to give themselves a rush. Everywhere, we have people self-medicating on different substances in attempts to battle their moods and unwanted feelings. Anti-depressants are not anything new, they’ve been with us all along.
In this piece, I am going to ignore all the medical and efficacy arguments, not because I do not think these discussions are not important, but because I believe the philosophical argument is the strongest of the three. For the sake of argument, I will assume that anti-depressants actually work precisely as intended: that they alleviate sadness, depression, grief, and malaise effectively and without significant side effects. I make this assumption not just for the sake of simplicity, but to better illustrate why we should be wary of them. I believe the better anti-depressants work, the stronger the philosophical case against them. Continue reading
One of the most misleading and confusing distinctions people often make with emotions is to divide them into two groups: good feelings and bad feelings. Good feelings might include joy, pride, curiosity, warmth, confidence, concern, or trust and bad feelings might include anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, despair, grief, or hate. While certainly there is wisdom in distinguishing between the pleasant emotions and the unpleasant emotions, calling the unpleasant emotions “bad” is quite incorrect. All of our emotions, and the combinations of emotions that we can experience, have some survival benefit. This point is important: if any of our emotions were hazardous to our survival, then they would not be passed onto future generations.
The fact that so called bad or negative emotions such as pain, fear, grief, sadness, and guilt exist indicates that they are very important for facilitating human survival. There is a rare genetic disease where a person is born without the ability to feel any physical pain. The life expectancy of these people is typically only about 20 years. They often die from serious burns that become gangrenous, and because they don’t feel any pain, they do not realise they have even burned themselves until it is too late for treatment to save them. Here it becomes clear that having a painless life will in fact also be a short life. Likewise, a person who never feels guilt will quickly find themselves locked away in prison or hated and scorned by the community, while those who do not feel fear will end up a delicious meal for a bear or in a serious accident because they did not take proper precautions. There are clear survival benefits for having pain, fear, and guilt. However, for the emotions of sadness and grief, the link between these emotions and increased chances of survival is a bit more complicated to understand. Continue reading
Never been to therapy before? Wondering how it can help? Curious about the therapeutic process? Each year, tens of millions of people seek therapy for a variety of reasons. Not all therapists are the same, though; there are many different schools of thought. Even within the same school, each therapist is unique in their approach to the therapeutic process. Philosophical therapists were arguably the first therapists in history, but are relatively few in numbers of practitioners today compared to the mainstream schools like behaviourism, psychoanalysis, and gestalt, just to name a few. Because philosophical therapy is different to most of the other schools, I have written this article to cover the most basic process of the philosophical therapeutic process.
Questions, Questions, so many Questions
The role of the philosophical therapist is to ask you questions about yourself. They might sometimes provide you with some terminology and jargon and this is merely to help improve your ability to understand yourself and to communicate better in the sessions. These questions will often appear obvious. Sometimes the therapist might ask you if you feel angry, to which you might respond with, “Well, of course, I am feeling angry!” You might be thinking at the time that this is a silly question, but for the therapist, this is a very important question to ask. On the topic of anger: some people do not know if they are experiencing anger. I have come across people who have been red in the face and shouting, but later on, when questioned about this, said they did not feel angry at all. So sometimes obvious questions like this will be asked just so the therapist can get an idea of how self-aware the client is. Continue reading
A common question people ask is where their problems come from. Why do they have sudden panic attacks at work? Why do they yell at their spouse when they don’t want to? Why do they lie when they mean to be honest? Why do they tell people get lost when they really want them to stay? Why do they choose to spend so much time with people who cannot help them to be happy? Why do they not have the motivation to get up in the morning to deal with their problems? The root of all these problems lies in childhood.
This answer appears surprising to many people, though. Most people tend to assume the reason why they feel uncontrollably sad, angry, or guilty is because of the situation or person immediately facing them. In fact, they often think it is all to do with the person or problem facing them and not anything to do with their childhood at all. The other person or the situation is making them feel sad, making them feel angry, and making them feel guilty (See “Who Makes You Feel?”). They are helpless puppets responding to the behaviour of people and situations around them. The idea that their now long distant childhood had something to do with it is actually far from their minds, if it is even something they are aware of as being a factor in their present unhappiness.
How do events that happened to them so long ago continue to affect them? Continue reading
Lack of motivation is a common complaint in the 21st century. Many people talk about feeling a lack of motivation. There are many factors that control how motivated a person feels: incentives, deterrents, personal interest, cognitive dissonance, past childhood traumas, and dopamine levels all rate highly. Each of these topics deserves an article in its own right, but for this topic, however, this article will concern itself merely with self-esteem and dopamine levels. Furthermore, it will act simply as an introduction to the topic of dopamine and its relationship to motivation. If you are interested in this topic, you are urged to do your own further research, as this article will not be an in-depth academic piece. There are a few links at the bottom to get you started.
Dopamine is a chemical produced in the brain that appears to be strongly connected with motivation. People who lack dopamine have difficulty getting up to do anything. In fact, Parkinson’s disease, a condition that gradually paralyses its victims over time, does so by killing off the neurons responsible for producing dopamine. Without dopamine, we are simply brains trapped in jars. This raises some interesting questions about the nature of depression: is depression actually about sadness at all or just about motivation? If we pull happiness and motivation apart from each other, we can arrive at four distinct states:
- Happy and motivated.
- Miserable and unmotivated.
- Miserable, but motivated.
- Happy, but unmotivated.